The following write-up provides some commentary from Peter Wolf, where the Western District Conference got underway yesterday (Friday) in Tempe, Arizona...
Under clear blue skies, and with temperatures near 80, the 2006 IDSA Western District Conference got underway at Arizona State University this afternoon. The weather was so beautiful, it's a wonder anybody would spend the day indoors. It says something about the quality of the workshops and speakers, then, that so many attendees not only spent the afternoon indoors, but really enjoyed themselves too.
The afternoon was a series of workshops on a range of topics from sketching to sustainability. Here, in brief, is a rundown of the afternoon's activities:Philip White,
Chair of the IDSA EcoDesign section, had a very enthusiastic audience for his "Okala Ideation" workshop. After first providing a little background to strengthen the case for Ecodesign (e.g., in 2004, 11% of birds, 25% of all mammals, and 34% of all fish and amphibian species were estimated to be endangered), White then demonstrated how to work through a rigorous Lifecycle Assessment (LCA). The real eye-opener here, however, was not so much in the ultimate Okala impact numbers (although that was certainly enlightening), but the ultimate impact of the designer's early choices. The decisions made early during the overall product development process - during the concept generation and development stages - are the ones that really determine the impact of a particular product. This puts the designer in a position of great responsibility, a point not lost on the students in this workshop. Clearly, the participants in this workshop get it, and intend to do something about it.
"Sketching + Rendering" workshop was simply packed, which is not surprising since Robertson knows what designer's want: loads of eye candy. Robertson teaches everything from basic perspective drawing to rendering futuristic environments, and has authored several books and DVDs. Nearly 70 students were spellbound while Robertson demonstrated the Photoshop sketching/rendering he uses to create his masterpieces. Robertson was also kind enough to share student work from Art Center's new Entertainment Design program. I spoke with one student during the break, and he told me he'd already learned several time-saving Photoshop tips, and the workshop wasn't even halfway through. I saw several ASU sophomores in attendance, trying to learn whatever tricks they could before their portfolios are due (as part of their application for Upper Division) seven days from now.
from SonicRim, got his students to think well outside the box in his User Research workshop. Rather than begin with form, which is all too often the starting point for design projects, Dandavate had his students begin with very abstract concepts. Once these concepts were collected, students were able to think of them in terms of common or collective experiences. The students then assembled collages that represented these collective experiences. And finally, once the collages were assembled, the students were asked to begin thinking about some sort of design solution that might fit into or enhance a particular aspect of the human experience. Unfortunately, the brevity (one hour and 45 minutes) of this workshop meant that students got only a taste of what Dandavate really wanted to present, and as a result some students seemed rather frustrated. Not to worry, though, Dandavate will be back tomorrow with "The Scam Called Experience Design" workshop.
Louise St. Pierre
Most of today's workshops were more like lectures, with the students doing more listening than doing. Not so in Louise St. Pierre's workshop, "Eternally Yours, Designing for Extended Product Lifetime." St. Pierre, an Associate Professor at Emily Carr Institute, has her students working frantically to come up a product or service that would extend the lifetime of some particular product. With plenty of imposed constraints (students are required to consider business plans, ad campaigns, and existing service and support networks), the student teams spent the first portion of the course developing their concepts, and then used the second half to present and discuss their ideas. It was immediately evident that the tough constraints led to some very innovative thinking - an important point of the course, according to St. Pierre, who seemed as pleased with the student work as the students were with themselves. Or, maybe she was just enjoying the gorgeous Arizona weather.
The evening got started with Prasad Boradkar, IDSA Western District VP, welcoming the attendees. Prasad was followed by ASU College of Design's Dean, Wellington "Duke" Reiter, who explained to the crowd that if they had not already heard of ASU's Industrial Design program, they soon would. Through their innovation, transdisciplinary partnerships, the ID department at ASU is making a name for itself on the campus of ASU and beyond. Duke then announced - in a beautifully executed bit of drama - that Prasad has been awarded tenure. The entire crowd immediately erupted in applause, which quickly became a standing ovation. For those of us who know and love Prasad (and you can't know this guy without loving him), it was glorious to be able to celebrate with him the moment he learned the news. It did, however, make the rest of the evening a little bit difficult to focus on.
Once Prasad had composed himself, he introduced the theme of the conference, "in between." He spoke about "perspective by incongruity," whereby a third, new idea emerges where two contrary ideas meet. Designers frequently work (and live) in these areas of contradiction - between utility and beauty, between art and technology, between the global and local. What Prasad proposes is that these boundary areas are in fact rich with possibilities. We just need to search them out.
of ECCO Design followed up Prasad's with his presentation, "Logic and Magic." Chan emphasized the importance of cultural references in connecting to users. His model is comprised of the physical, the contextual, and the aspirational aspects of a designed object, all of which are interconnected. The "magic" is the fourth element, which ties them all together, and makes the deeply-felt connection with the user. The audience was intrigued by Chan's model, even if it remained a little mysterious. But then again, that's what magic is all about.
from Ziba, finished of the evening with his presentation, "Styling Life: Designing in rich context for a digital lifestyle." Kotzer shared with us some of Ziba's design process, including their attention to current and future trends. He talked about the importance of "living the life," a process in which the design team lives the lives of the consumers they are trying to understand and connect with. Kotzer also emphasized the importance of being able to "render the dream," noting that if you can make your concept a reality (or at least a virtual reality), then people are more likely to pour their energy into it. Finally, as a case study, he showed some of the work Ziba has done with Logitech, developing their innovative Curve headphones.
Despite Kotzer's excellent presentation, there were no questions from the audience. They were ready for dinner and drinks! And so the crowd moved quickly to Neeb Plaza, where everybody got the chance to chat and just relax (a welcome and well-deserved reward for all the volunteers who kept the program running smoothly all day long). Good food, good music, interesting conversation and a beautiful Arizona spring evening. It almost makes you think we should do this more often...
Some comments from conference attendees:
"I really liked the Okala workshop, and the information they gave us - the booklet that they had prepared - just having that information I think is going to be really good." (Roy Swanson from Metro State College in Denver, CO)
(Referring to the Scott Robertson workshop) "He had a lot of tips on shortcut keys, which makes it so much quicker." Also, "he had a whole different way to do reflectivity." (Derick Noffsinger, Merit Award winner from Metro State College in Denver, CO)
"Probably the best food I've ever had at one of these conferences." (Anonymous student #1 from California College of the Arts)
"Seeing a lot of the professional stuff here is a definite reality check for me because I like to think that what we're doing in school is related to what we're going to be doing when we graduate." (Anonymous student #2 from California College of the Arts)
"This guy [Scott Robertson] has a real strong sense of how light works off of surfaces, and how to render forms. He's really kind of narrowed it down to a science. I've been gleaning from his wisdom, so I can do demos and show the students at Western how to do some of these tricks." (Jason Morris, Assistant Professor, Western Washington University)
Stephanie Tharp received a master of industrial design degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, and a bachelor of mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, and coordinator of their foundations program.
She has work experience with Ford Motor Company, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Armstrong Industries, and amazon.com. Most recently, with her husband, Bruce, Stephanie runs Materious, a design studio that produces discursive and speculative design work. They are currently working on a book, Design as Discourse: Tools for Thinking, which seeks to further legitimize and problematize alternate forms of design practice that extend designers’ cultural agency.